What's really behind the grilling of Hillary Clinton?

Clinton stood her ground on Benghazi
Clinton stood her ground on Benghazi

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Story highlights

  • Frida Ghitis: Benghazi investigation is a political maneuver seeking to diminish support for Clinton's campaign
  • Ghitis: Congressional investigators spent much less time investigating other comparable terrorist attacks

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)The unmistakable smell of hypocrisy permeating the latest congressional hearings on Benghazi is so pungent that few people believe the claims from the panel's leaders that they are only searching for the truth. Almost three-quarters of Americans now believe the investigation is motivated by a quest for political gain rather than by a genuine wish to get at the facts.

It's no wonder. Other national tragedies, other terrorist attacks, other major failings of U.S. operations overseas have received limited attention -- sometimes none at all -- from congressional investigators. A comparison of the way Congress responded to other U.S. security disasters that deserved close scrutiny strongly suggests all you need to know about the partisan, electoral politics at play in Washington today.
Frida Ghitis
To be sure, the events of Sept. 11, 2012, in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi constituted a calamitous failure and most certainly warranted a congressional investigation.
    But that investigation already happened, over and over and over. What we see now is clearly political theater, a maneuver by the Republican majority aimed at eroding support for the likely Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Vast majorities of Democrats and independents see it that way, and almost half of all Republicans agree.
    While Benghazi has been the subject of seven congressional investigations, in addition to one by an accountability review board, there are countless cases where Congress spent little time and money examining what went wrong.
    For example, Congress does not appear particularly interested in looking at what caused the disaster a few weeks ago, when the U.S. bombed a hospital operated by the charity Doctors Without Borders, in Kunduz, Afghanistan, even though the mistake cost nearly two dozen lives and harmed America's efforts in the area.
    If it is the security of Americans they worry about, congressional leaders have not spent much time investigating why some 30 Americans are being held hostage overseas today.
    But that tempered interest is hardly a fluke. In fact, the enthusiasm with which Congress has jumped to investigate the Benghazi debacle is unprecedented.
    In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a Joint Inquiry in Congress looked at five previous major terrorist attacks or attempted attacks against the U.S. to see where intelligence had failed. The incidents included the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 1999 "Millennium" plot, and the strike on the USS Cole in 2000.
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    These were not minor or inconsequential terrorist operations. They were deadly and they foreshadowed what came later. The embassy bombings, two simultaneous explosions in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, killed more than 200 people and left more than 4,000 injured.
    Congress held a handful of hearings, but no formal investigation. The investigation was conducted by the FBI and ultimately resulted in the indictment of several men, including one Osama Bin Laden.
    Not one of these five terrorist plots against the U.S. produced a level of congressional interest even remotely approaching what we see now on Benghazi and on Hillary Clinton. No investigation took as long. Even that joint congressional investigation was completed in 10 months.
    If congressional leaders believe concern for the safety of diplomatic personnel warrants the magnitude and duration of their efforts, it's curious that Congress spent so little time reviewing the Africa embassy bombings, or any of the many other attacks on American diplomats who have died in the line of duty over the years; people like 33-year-old John Granville, a diplomat working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, shot to death in Khartoum, Sudan in 2008, or David Foy, 51, killed in a massive blast outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan in 2006.
    If the issue is the failures of security, of intelligence, or of judgment that have cost the lives of U.S. citizens on dangerous assignments, it's curious that the events of an awful day in late 2009 at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan did not merit this kind of scrutiny. That was when seven Americans working for the CIA were killed when a man who was supposed to be an informant, invited by American agents to be the base, turned out to be a radical jihadi, a suicide bomber who blew himself up. The dead included Jennifer Matthews, 45, one of the CIA's top al Qaeda experts. That incident was investigated by the CIA, not Congress.
    If it's terrorism that justifies the obsessive attention to Benghazi, it's interesting that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the worst terrorist attack before 9/11, was not the target of a slew of congressional panels the way Benghazi is. The only report from Congress on the Oklahoma bombing was privately released by Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who was searching for an elusive "foreign connection." The attack, which killed 168 people, was investigated by the FBI.
    Yes, all of those happened years ago. But what about the Boston bombings of April 2013? They did warrant an investigation by the Homeland Security Committee, which produced a couple of reports. That's a minuscule investigation compared with the Benghazi work by congressional committees including, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Senate Committee On Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and others, each of which has already conducted its own investigation and issued its own report.
    What happened in Benghazi back in 2012 was horrific and it is crucial that the U.S. learns from its mistakes. Investigating what exactly went wrong is an imperative. But what is unfolding in Washington is not about that. History proves it. That's the whiff so many people detect. We know what it is.